Special Reports

Downtown, diversified: Consultants envision variety of niche districts

Goody Clancy officials brought their plan to revitalize downtown into a little clearer focus Wednesday night before about 225 people at the Scottish Rite center.

The Boston-based consultants see Wichita's downtown not as one large unit, but as a collection of distinctly-designed districts that should be walkable and linked by a collection of retail, residential and entertainment development.

"Downtown is an unparalleled opportunity to leverage economic growth and diversify the economy," said David Dixon, Goody Clancy's principal in charge of planning and urban design, before the meeting.

The audience voted for the top downtown priorities before and during the meeting, then viewed a detailed map-based presentation, including key walking corridors and what the consultants call "a string of pearls" — landmarks like the Arkansas River, the city's museums and Lawrence-Dumont Stadium — that create themes of attraction.

The group will return with a draft plan for a June 14 public meeting with the final downtown redevelopment plan expected this fall.

The final fall plan will include recommendations to tie together what the consultants see as a downtown that's "the sum of its parts," Dixon said, a place that more than 3 million people visit annually.

Recommendations will range from business ideas to improved downtown transit, including a link from the governmental center on Main to Via Christi on St. Francis. An improved seven-day version of the city's Q transit bus system is one idea.

Identifying districts

The diverse downtown districts Goody Clancy identified include Old Town, Old Town South, Old Town West, the Arena, Commerce Street Arts, Renaissance Square, the governmental center, the core and the Arkansas River district.

Key centerpieces of the identified districts are the Main Street and Douglas corridors, the latter broken down into the historic district near Old Town; the core near Main; the river district; and the Delano district.

Douglas could be "transformed" by action on key downtown sites, said Goody Clancy's Ben Carlson, including the new city library, Century II and WaterWalk.

Carlson called for more effective use of the riverfront near WaterWalk through more activities and river access.

Goody Clancy sees a busy first 10 years of market-driven redevelopment in those districts, including the potential for:

* 1,500 to 1,600 housing units, 30 percent in rehabbed office or industrial buildings.

"There are all kinds of opportunities for housing downtown," Carlson said.

* Between 125,000 and 175,000 square feet of targeted niche retail stores.

* 400,000 to 480,000 square feet of office space in six to eight new buildings.

* 350 to 475 new hotel rooms, in one full-service hotel with a link to Century II and two smaller hotels, including Jim Korroch's planned Fairfield Inn.

All of the projected redevelopment has one goal, Dixon said: to diversify Wichita's economy by attracting residents who bring different professions and skill sets to downtown.

"The number one agenda item for every region is to diversify its economy," Dixon said Wednesday afternoon before the presentation.

"Economies are diversified around people in most cases. Retaining and attracting bright, educated people to make their economic lives in your region is critical."

Those people want to live, work and play in the same area, according to demographics, Dixon said.

And they want to live in "a region that allows them to live the kind of lifestyle that expresses who they are: lower-cost housing, places with a strong sense of community where people spend time with each other, places with many choices to shop, transit choices and a mix of other intellectually stimulating people to interact in the work they want to do," he said.

Those market-driven downtown specialty shops, Dixon said, will supplement Wichita's suburban retailers rather than supplant them, a fear of private Wichita developers.

"We're talking about a bunch of niches," he said. "There's no point in reproducing suburbia. We're adding to the region what suburbia doesn't provide."

Consultant Sarah Woodworth, an economics expert, told the audience that "not all downtown properties are going to be a good candidate for public-private financing." Governments must weigh the short-term and long-term impacts of their investments on the broader goals for downtown, she said.

'Key to the future'

It was a message that resonated with the crowd.

"I think it's all been positive, and I am glad that they're continually updating what they're working on based on input, feedback and ideas rather than just talking to civic leaders and, 'Surprise! Here it is,' " said Clayton Pearson of Wichita.

"They're showing the public their ideas as they develop instead of completely when they're done, and it makes it easier to absorb as they come up with the final plan."

Wichita banker Jim Faith said he was pleased to see downtown rise in importance to the public.

"I've been working in downtown Wichita for most of the last 26 years and over that time I've seen a steady decline in the vibrancy of the core area,'' said Faith, president of Sunflower Bank. "I am excited to see a coordinated effort between the government, the city and private business to focus on revitalizing the area.

"It's a key to the future for the city and the region."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle